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Alois Podhajsky with Norman.

 

Colonel Alois Podhajsky was an Olympian and Director of the the Spanish Riding School in Vienna for 26 years. Podhajsky was known to bring out the best in each horse he rode, and to rely on patience, understanding, and affection in the training process.

Podhajsky detailed his riding, training, and competitive experiences in the renowned book MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, which was first published in English in 1968. By sharing the stories of each of the horses he worked with over the course of his career, we learn his methods, mistakes, and discoveries. One horse he writes of was an eight-year-old, part-Trakehner gelding named Norman, who helps us learn the lesson that sometimes we have to go back in order to go forward.

Norman had been taught quite a number of things by his breeder in Germany. He knew how to perform lateral work, flying changes, and even some sort of passage…most of it was superficial…. Once again I met in Norman a horse without sufficient urge to go forward unless pushed and often he offered a passage without its being demanded. But his passage was not the artistic solemn movement but a tense sort of hovering trot which had its origin in his reluctance to go forward. It is a great temptation for the rider to accept an exercise that the horse offers but would have a very negative effect on the rest of the training. The idea of dressage is to cultivate and improve the natural movements of the horse so that he executes them upon the slightest aids of the rider. If he anticipates these aids he proves that his obedience is not sufficiently well established. Besides, a horse will anticipate only to make work easier for himself and execute the exercise incorrectly. Consequently the standard of work will decline. If this is the case the rider must interrupt his present work and go back again to the basic training until it is well consolidated. 

We had the greatest trouble making Norman strike off into the canter from the trot. Either he tried to run away or he offered his “passage.” He had been taught to strike off into the canter exclusively from the walk and became nervous and excited upon this unusual demand. However, it is a very important exercise which improves suppleness and helps achieve the correct activity of the hind legs in response to the actions of the reins. It also furthers the will to go forward and establishes obedience and is therefore a necessity in thorough gymnastic training. Besides, it is much more natural and easier for the horse to strike off into the canter from the trot. Nevertheless it took quite a long while until Norman understood this unaccustomed exercise and I had to allow him his lapse of time because I did not want to confuse him or make him nervous.

 

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Walking Norman on a loose rein.

 

Once again I relied on my proven remedy—good for anything and everything, one might say—which is to teach the horse to move correctly and with suppleness and balance, to make him understand his rider and follow him without reserve. I began to take Norman on the same course of training I pursued with my young horses, with the exception that I spent less time on the various phases. That is, I moved on when I saw that he had understood and was able to execute my demands. Of course I observed him closely all the time and found that I could establish his confidence much more quickly after a few rounds at the walk on a loose rein at the beginning of work and that he paid much less attention to his surroundings than if I had had begun our daily session with the reins applied.

In this way, Norman had a chance to look around in the open-air arena and the adjacent paddocks, and when he was satisfied with what he had seen, he would concentrate entirely upon his work. The rider should always give his horse a chance to look around before beginning serious training. His horse will never become “fed up” with dressage if the rider respects his particularities and allows the freedom of mind necessary for concentrated work.

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You can read more of Alois Podhajsky’s stories in MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

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Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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When Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship was growing up in his native Australia, his father stressed the importance of using long-reining as part of early groundwork when starting colts, as well as using the technique as a safe way to troubleshoot issues when restarting older horses with training or behavior problems. But the influx of American horsemanship methods just as Dan James and his business partner Dan Steers began their careers meant the popularity of traditional long-reining techniques waned.

It was when Dan and Dan trained with Heath Harris, one of the world’s elite liberty trainers and the man behind the horses in blockbuster films such as The Man from Snowy River, Phar Lap, The Young Black Stallion, and The Legend of Zorro, that they discovered the true value of long-reining in a horse’s education.

“Heath mounted us up on green Warmbloods that had just come in for training,” Dan and Dan remember in their new book LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP. “If one of those ‘giants’ wasn’t well broke and ran away, it could get scary really fast. It became quickly apparent that the more we had these horses bridled up and working well from the ground, the easier it was when we got into the saddle.”

So yes, long-reining is a fantastic intermediate groundwork step that bridges the gap between leading a horse and riding him.

“There are a lot of horses that get ‘lost in translation’ when making that leap,” say Dan and Dan, “so the simpler and smoother you can make the transition, the better. We’re not saying that everything a horse can do when being long-reined he will automatically be able to do with you on his back, but we do find it drastically reduces the level of fear and confusion for most horses. And, colts that are taught long-reining progress much faster starting under saddle than horses that are taught everything from their back.”

Heath Harris also had Dan and Dan work with off-the-track Thoroughbreds and “problem” horses that needed to revisit earlier training to fill in holes in their education. These horses taught them that long-reining is equally useful for building a foundation, working through issues, or refining skills the horses might already possess.

“Since we started teaching long-reining to the public, we’ve learned that the magic it works with horses is only half of its benefits,” say Dan and Dan. “We’ve also discovered it helps people gain confidence with their horsemanship—no small thing.”

Long-reining rapidly builds from basic skills to performing high-level exercises. Many classically trained dressage riders at the Olympian level use a lot of long-reining in their programs, as do some elite Western riders. And of course, we’re all familiar with famous Lipizzaner stallions from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria, who–alongside their trainers–take long-reining to its highest level of difficulty, entertaining the world with maneuvers that once prepared horses for the immense challenges of the battlefield.

Whether you are into Western or English riding, the long-reining concepts taught in LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP are well worth trying!

“If you have ever seen the Double Dans perform a long-reining demonstration, I am sure that you have been amazed by their skill and talent,” says Jen Johnson, Chief Executive Director of North American Western Dressage (NAWD). “At North American Western Dressage, we understand that good horsemanship begins on the ground. Long-reining can help you and your horse develop a great deal of harmony before you ever get in the saddle, and your horse can learn to use his body in a beneficial manner—without the added weight of a rider. Working your horse from the ground enhances physical and emotional fitness, and this is a great step-by-step guide to help you, with lots of terrific exercises.”

“Dan James and his partner in Double Dan Horsemanship, Dan Steers, are very well suited to offer advice in achieving success with long-lining techniques in a friendly, easy-to-follow manner,” agrees FEI 4* judge and long-lining expert Bo Jena.

You can download a free chapter from LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP or order a copy of the book from the Trafalgar Square Books storefront, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

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The "Flying Horse": Neapolitano Santuzza in a capriole in hand.

The “Flying Horse”: Neapolitano Santuzza in a capriole in hand.

When I outgrew my first (“free”) pony, my parents, who were not horsey and who didn’t have a lot of money, found an Appy mare that was effectively “out to pasture.” She was unused and unloved, and they could get her cheap. I remember my first reaction, as a child who reveled in the long-maned, thick-tailed, glossy horses of girlhood fantasies—she’s not pretty…she’s not going to be any good. It is so easy to judge a horse’s worth by how he looks—and to get it tragically wrong.

That mare stayed with me until I went to college. She was the safest, most surefooted mount I may have ever ridden. She packed me many, many miles on lonely mountain trails, always bringing me home to my worried parents just before dusk. She was game for every jump (up to a certain height!) I threw at her, and she put up with the half-dozen neighbor kids to whom I gave lessons, patient, quiet, and honest until the end.

My experience is certainly not uncommon. A far more striking and illuminating example is one described by Colonel Alois Podhajsky, the Director of the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna for 26 years, in the book MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS:

One of the most brilliant caprioleurs at the Spanish Riding School was Neapolitano Santuzza. By appearing in the performances and having pictures taken of his tremendous leaps, his fame certainly spread farther into the world than that of most of the other stallions of the School…

He was born in 1936 at the Lipizzaner stud farm in Piber in the green mountains of Styria and came to the School in Vienna together with nine young stallions of the same age in the autumn of 1940. Here he experienced the first disappointment of his life. While his brothers were admired by all riders for their beauty and their good paces and were flattered accordingly, nobody even paid any attention to Neapolitano Santuzza. On the contrary, suggestions were heard that he should not be kept at the School because he was obviously not worth any serious work. I am sure he felt like the ugly duckling. It was true that he was rather small and his head was just a trifle too big for his conformation. Nor did his eyes express the ardent temperament expected from a Lipizzaner. His paces were mediocre but his character was of an indescribable good-naturedness and docility…

I admit, I felt sorry for the little chap who looked at everybody with such gentle eyes and of whose presence nobody took any notice. What had been mere pity at first slowly developed into a deep affection, which made me protect him…I assigned him to a rider of very modest ambitions who demanded very little from his horses and consequently would not do any harm to him. In this respect he led a quiet life but also progressed so slowly in his training that as a twelve-year-old he was still not advanced enough to appear in a performance. Again it was suggested we get rid of him and sell him to some private stable. But he had become so dear to my heart that I was reluctant to make any decision and wanted to give him one more chance…

In 1949 I decided to work him personally in hand…I tried to teach him caprioles and was very pleased with his reaction to my aids. Although he was of a very calm disposition he possessed an extraordinary gift for this spectacular school jump. It was surprising to everybody who had followed his training to see how quickly he understood what I wanted, which was yet another proof of the importance of sympathy and mutual understanding for any successful cooperation…

A year later, in 1950, Neapolitano Santuzza appeared in public for the first time…[his] debut was a great success and the beginning of a brilliant career. From 1951 on there was no performance in which he did not take part. He received the name “the flying horse” and pictures of his capriole in hand circulated throughout the world. Our relationship became closer all the time; he never let me down and it seemed in all those years as if nature had endowed him with everlasting youth. He never declined in his abilities and his performance remained unaltered in beauty and exactness.

 

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Read more about Neapolitano Santuzza, and many other horses that contributed to the life of Colonel Alois Podhajsky, in MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

—Rebecca Didier, Senior Editor

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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